Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best has opted not to fire an officer who lied about his reasons for wheeling an office chair in front of a man’s workplace and sitting there for about 40 minutes while seeking an apology for disrespecting him.
Officer Frank Poblocki was given a 30-day suspension by Best for making materially false statements, despite Police Department policy that presumes officers will be fired for dishonesty in their official duties — a cornerstone of rules adopted in 2008 to address community concerns about accountability.
In addition, the city’s contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild states: “In the case of an officer receiving a sustained complaint involving dishonesty in the course of the officer’s official duties or relating to the administration of justice, a presumption of termination shall apply.”
Best provided no explanation for not adhering to policy in her April 4 Disciplinary Action Report, obtained Thursday by The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request.
Reached by phone Thursday, Best defended her decision, saying it was the “right thing to do” based on disciplinary options ranging from a 30-day suspension to termination presented to her by Andrew Myerberg, the department’s civilian director of the Office of Police Accountability (OPA), and others, including top commanders. She said she couldn’t comment further because Poblocki has appealed the suspension.
“We’ll have to wait for the appeal to play out and see where it lands,” Best said.
Myerberg, reached by text message, did not immediately respond to Best’s comments.
Rich O’Neill, spokesman for the police guild, did not respond to phone and email inquiries.
The disclosure of Best’s disciplinary action comes two weeks after U.S. District Judge James Robart found the Police Department partially out of compliance with federally mandated reforms to address excessive force, citing weaknesses in the disciplinary system that allowed an outside arbitrator to order the reinstatement of an officer fired for punching a handcuffed person.
The 30-day suspension is the most severe discipline the chief may impose short of termination.
Poblocki’s body-camera video of the Feb. 10, 2018, incident showed he told another officer he “got a little disrespected” by a citizen who had, along with his girlfriend, hurled insults at him during an earlier confrontation that day over towing a car.
In her written findings, Best found that Poblocki misrepresented his actions to OPA investigators by falsely claiming he was engaged in community policing in a high-crime area, and that his purpose for going to the AutoZone car-parts store in the Central District was to do “preventative maintenance,” interact with “people in the plaza” and be “approachable.”
Poblocki denied he specifically went to look for the man.
“These statements were dishonest,” Best wrote.
As previously reported by The Times, Best demoted Poblocki last year from sergeant to officer as a result of the incident, along with a 15-day suspension without pay, with five days held in abeyance.
The OPA then opened another internal investigation into whether Poblocki had lied to OPA investigators when he was questioned about the incident.
Poblocki has a history of being disciplined and has been suspended twice before for improper citizen contacts, according to police documents.
Additional records released Thursday reveal that Poblocki likened himself to a hotheaded Los Angeles police officer played by Sean Penn in the 1988 movie “Colors,” when he alerted two patrol officers under his command of his plans to go the man’s workplace.
One of the officers told internal investigators that he interpreted Mobile Display Messages sent by Poblocki to be saying he was doing so for the express reason of finding with the man and obtaining an apology.
“2 questions for you guys … Have you seen the movie Colors/if not, that’s your homework,” Poblocki wrote, adding that he needed to make an appearance at the man’s workplace because “this guy was talking a lot of smack and I will not be dissuaded.”
“Pac Man!!!!,” the officers responded, referring to the Penn character’s nickname.
Myerberg noted in his summary report of the incident that the movie “concerns a young police officer dealing with gang activity in Los Angeles. The officer, who is nicknamed ‘Pac Man,’ aggressively and violently interacts with gang members and is, accordingly, notorious throughout the neighborhood.”
Poblocki drove to the AutoZone parking lot, where he removed the rolling chair from the back seat of his patrol car, planted himself in front of the business for about 40 minutes and chatted with citizens and patrol officers who passed through the area.
“Some guy called me a ho and a bitch,” Poblocki is heard saying on the video to a man walking his dog. Poblocki said he planned to stay until he got an apology.
Twenty-three minutes after he sat down, according to records and the video, a witness confronted Poblocki, saying he’d heard why Poblocki was there and considered it “harassment” and “bad form.” Poblocki responded, “OK,” providing his name and badge number.
That witness — not the man who had been upset over the car tow — complained to the Police Department, records show. The witness emailed the OPA the same day, describing Poblocki’s actions as “a complete waste of taxpayer money” that “promotes poor relations with the community.”
The witness, who is white, noted the man being targeted was African American and, in an apparent reference to the large black population in the Central District, asked, “whether the same treatment would be given to a citizen if … they and the community were predominantly white.”
During the internal investigation, Poblocki said he stationed himself in front of the store to monitor a historically high-crime location. He acknowledged that sitting in the chair was unusual, but because he planned to be there for more than 30 minutes he wanted to be “comfortable and approachable.”
He told the OPA he didn’t go there to obtain an apology from the man and had “no intention of initiating contact” with him, according to the memo.
Poblocki denied that racial bias played any role, noting he was in a “mixed-race marriage.”
In handing down the 30-day suspension, Best wrote that she considered his disciplinary history and the seriousness of the misconduct.
“OPA serves a central role in police accountability and it relies on officers responding honestly and fully to its inquiries,” she wrote. “Ultimately, in light of all the specific factors in this case, I have determined that a 30-day suspension is the appropriate outcome.”
In the union contract, dishonesty is defined as “intentionally providing false information, which the officer knows to be false, or intentionally providing incomplete responses to specific questions, regarding facts that are material to the investigation. Specific questions do not include general or ‘catch-all’ questions. For purposes of this Section dishonesty means more than mere inaccuracy or faulty memory.”